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posted 17 Feb 2021, 18:31 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 17 Feb 2021, 18:41 ]
17 February 2020


The country’s three Trade Union Federations, National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOS (FITUN) are again concerned over continued statements made by the Minister of Finance concerning public sector wage negotiations, in particular, statements concerning the Industrial Court and National Petroleum.

We view the statements which have made by the Minister of Finance about the Industrial Court, in Parliament and in his releases to be very disturbing. The Minister on 26 January 2021 in the Parliament said the following: “Recently, the Industrial Court awarded an increase to workers at National Petroleum. I cannot say what the precise figure is, but I know it is within the range of 10 to 11 percent salary increase. As a result of that award by the Industrial Court, National Petroleum is now running at a loss every month in the vicinity of 15 to $20 million” (26 January 2021, Hansard pg. 112).

The Minister in the above statement is factually inaccurate about the award of the Court as it implies that the Court’s decision has resulted in NP running at a loss. Which factually not true. The Minister’s words also implies that the court is responsible for the financial state of NP. This is a very irresponsible and deliberately misleading statement.

The fact is the Industrial Court never awarded an increase of salary of 10 to 11%. An NP witness, as stated in the Judgment, said that he was comfortable with the award of a single digit increase anywhere from 0 to 9 %, the OWTU requested an increase of 14 % and the Court granted an increase of 7%.

With respect to Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA). We first wish to remind the Minister of Finance that consolidation of COLA IS IN FACT a negotiable item (contrary to his statement) and it was NP that approached the Union to consolidate three expired periods. It was the Company that froze the payment of COLA in 2011 in violation of the existing collective agreement by refusing to adjust the COLA paid depending on the changes of the Retail Price Index.

On 4th December 2019, the Industrial Court ordered the Company to resume payment of COLA in keeping with the negotiated provisions of Article 11 of the registered Collective Agreement. The case was adjourned to 17 December 2019 at 1pm. However, before the hearing at the Court on 17 December, NP and the Union met and settled the matter and agreed to the payment of the retroactive COLA owed to workers effective 2011. As a result, parties filed a Terms of Settlement which superseded the Court Order of 4 December and which made that Order of the 4th December redundant and of no effect.

The Minister ought to know that the final decision on the issue of COLA was made by the parties in collective bargaining and not by the Court. He ought to know that it was not an Order of the Court which made COLA retroactive but a negotiated settlement between the parties, which the parties signed and registered at the Court. We wish to remind the Minister that it was a decision by NP’s management and/ or Board to illegally stop the payment of COLA to workers since 2011 which placed NP in the position of having to pay retroactive COLA and NOT because of the Court.

Imbert accused of distorting the facts
The Minister of Finance needs to hold to account whoever at NP’s management and/or Board level that took the illegal decision to simply stop the payment of COLA, since 2011 and stop blaming the Court and continuing to mislead the public. The loss at NP has nothing to do with the Court’s decisions. Such an attack by the Executive Arm of the state on a Court of higher record can undermine the judicial system and the entire industrial relations architecture, which has kept industrial peace and stability for the last 50 years.

The Industrial Court must be allowed to maintain its objectivity and independence, which independence must be protected in its determination of fair matters and not attacked by the State. In addition, the fact that NP and other State Enterprises and the public sector on a whole have outstanding negotiations going as far back as 2012 is no fault of the Court or the Unions. The responsibility falls squarely on the State which has refused to keep collective agreements current, which would allow the government to avoid the gross injustice of people living on 2012/2013 salaries in 2021. For today, the Cost of Living continue to spiral upwards creating real and vexing increase in the gap between salaries and rising cost of living.

The Minister is again attempting to usurp the collective bargaining process. Collective Bargaining is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Its importance is such that it is protected by international law as enshrined in the ILO Convention C154 - Collective Bargaining Convention, 1981 (No. 154). Collective Bargaining does not include a Minister of Finance discussing terms of employment in the Senate. That information should rightly be presented to the Recognised Majority Union. It is highly irregular and worrisome for the Minister of Finance to usurp the role of the Chief Personnel Officer and attempt to impose a unilateral position in the public domain. The Trade Unions are of the view that the Sunday Guardian article is correct and that it is the Minister of Finance who is attempting to circumvent the free and fair Collective Bargaining process by stretching the truth and distorting the facts. This does not give the Minister of Finance the right to violate the Industrial Relations Act and the international labour standards and conventions that have been ratified by this country. On the 16th February, 2021 the three federations officially lodged a complaint to the International Labour Organization.

National Trade Union Centre (NATUC),

Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM)

Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOS (FITUN)
Gerry Kangalee,
17 Feb 2021, 18:34